Jonathan Johansson

En Hand I Himlen

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It seems strange to recommend a songwriter of Jonathan Johansson's caliber on the strength of a cover version, but non-Swedish-speaking audiences may find the most immediate point of entry into his second album (which, given its stylistic differences from his first, his change of moniker, and increased exposure, feels effectively like a debut) to be "Alla Vill Ha Hela Världen." It's an essentially faithful rendition of a familiar song -- Tears for Fears' 1985 hit "Everybody Wants to Rule the World," rendered in Swedish as "everybody wants the whole world" -- but it provides a good indication of the album's approach: rich, gleaming layers of keyboards and guitars; distinctive but not overpowering midtempo rhythms that land somewhere between danceable and drivingly triumphant, and effortlessly buoyant melodies, delivered in Johansson's gorgeously understated octave-doubled vocals. That he can pull off a welcome reworking of a brilliant pop classic without changing it all that much (save for the translation and a slightly synthier sheen), and then make it fit by filling the rest of the album with originals that feel just as enduring and elemental, is quite a feat. But En Hand I Himlen is not a showy album; if anything, it's relentlessly smooth, gliding from the insistent, Arcade Fire-ish pulse of the title track to the breezy, almost Caribbean lilt of "Innan vi Faller," which flows seamlessly into the loping sweetness of "Högsta Take, Högsta Våningen," and so on from there. One highlight after another, without a single subpar track -- Johansson's solemn, hymn-like choral pieces ("Du Sa" and "Psalm Noll Noll") are just as alluring as his scintillating, pointillist wide-screen electro-pop ("Aldrig Ensam," "Sent för Oss.") Indeed, any of these songs could be a forgotten 20-year-old smash single -- or a worthy candidate for an English-language revisiting two decades hence. Even the album's timely 1980s-era referentiality, as prominent as it is, slathered in gauzily synthetic textures, is ultimately secondary to the timeless majesty of its melodies. Highly recommended.

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